Loyalist College students are heading to Belleville’s DocFest with their own stories to tell

From left to right: Loyalist College film students Joel Henry, Titus Tolentino, Kayden Williams, Joel Cannatella and Aiden Brough have won spots at DocFest 2024 to show their student-made documentaries. – Emma Persaud photo

Joe Cannatella says if you want to hear an amazing story, talk to a stranger.

And that’s just what the Loyalist College film student did to win the prestigious spotlight to show his student-made documentary at this year’s DocFest in downtown Belleville.

“We’re like barbers or bartenders where people want to open up to you because they don’t really know you,” said Cannatella. “You don’t want to open up to someone you’re super close to, because they wonder why you want to go down that road or be so vulnerable, but not so much with a stranger for some reason.”

Meanwhile, his fellow student, Kayden Williams, had to distance himself from his documentary subject: his own father. With his classmate, Aiden Brough, as the director, they put together a story that Williams might not have been able to tell on his own.

“I had to put my head down and stay in the back the whole time Aiden was interviewing him,” Williams recalled. “If I had done the interview it would have come out differently and he might have skipped over parts because I have heard the story so many times before.”

“It was a stressful experience, knowing that our subject was so personal to my friend,” added Brough. “But it made me view it as so much more than a school project and something far more important.”

The spot-winning documentaries are varied. Williams, in “Melted Together,” focused on the story of his father: a dark-skinned man growing up in a small town who one day found a broken guitar on the side of the road – leading to a lifelong love of music; Cannatella in “Cutting with Rhythm,” told the story of his own barber who inspired a joyful film with scissors in hand; Joel Henry, in “Inklination,” followed the journey of a girl at a Loblaws checkout counter who moved from break-time doodles to professional tattoo artistry. Each one found a story that not only resonated with themselves, but also with an audience and panel of judges who, on Feb. 15, decided whose work would screen at DocFest.

“I was a huge bundle of nerves going into that night,” said Henry. “I feel so honoured to have my documentary move on to the actual DocFest event…that it was worthy to join the ranks of those other documentaries.”

“I was shocked with how nervous I was in the moment before the docs were shown,” said Canatella. “And then…people were laughing at the right times and quiet when it was an emotional moment. It was really cool to see the room change based on the emotion you were trying to convey in the doc.”

These students know their work intimately – all of them worked in different roles on different pieces. They learned to bring a story to life as the director, interviewer, and behind the camera. Titus Tolentino, who served as the cameraman for “Inklination,” said it was an exciting mixture of planning and play.

And when Tolentino and Henry’s Inklination was called as a winner of a DocFest spot, they both said they were in shock.

“It was unreal for us,” said Tolentino. “Me and Joel were actually laughing beforehand because everyone else’s films were so amazing we definitely thought we wouldn’t be picked. But then they called us up. It was such a moment of disbelief.”

Now they are preparing for a bigger audience, a bigger screen, a bigger moment. Their documentaries will be shown alongside international filmmakers over the course of the 13th annual Downtown DocFest. These young directors, editors and videographers have no idea who will come to see their work, or if they will get to meet some of the more experienced filmmakers, but they are getting ready to take it all in.

While they agree they’re nervous for the big screen, all five students said they wouldn’t have anything to show if it wasn’t for each other. The collaboration they needed to put together months of work has led to a curiosity and passion for the stories of those around them. Henry made it clear that this is just the beginning.

“I would like to travel,” said Henry, as the others nodded along. “I want to get off this continent and go see the world, talk to different people, know their different stories and tell their different stories to others.”

The students’ screenings will be at the Empire Theatre on Friday, Feb. 23, at 12:30 p.m.

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